In this article on The Importance of Critical Thinking, Lane Wallace talks about factors that affect reasonable, productive discourse:
In my experience, there are two factors that seem to make the biggest difference as to whether or not two people can have a meaningful and productive discussion from different points of view (assuming both are fairly self-assured and reasonable beings):
1. The first factor is whether the people involved see the world in black-and-white terms, or in more complex shades of gray. For those who see the world in absolute terms of black and white (on the left or the right), the only choice of movement is all the way to the other side. Which is an awfully long distance to move an opinion. People who are more inclined to see the world in nuanced shades of gray, on the other hand, can consider a slightly different shade without feeling their basic values threatened. The options for movement, and therefore their potential willingness to consider another perspective, are far greater.
2. The second factor is how skilled, practiced, and comfortable both participants are in the art of critical thinking. The website criticalthinking.org offers more definitions of what critical thinking consists of than anyone probably needs. But at its most exemplary, the site says, critical thinking is based on “clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.” Critical thinkers “avoid thinking simplisitcally about complicated issues and strive to appropriately consider the rights and needs of relevant others.” And “they realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers … they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.”
Last week, the AIGA launched a new site, working with the design consultancy Method, a firm well-regarded in interaction design circles. As with every digital endeavor they initiate, it seems, there are those who vehemently pronounce their irrelevance: Gain? What’s that? One Day For Design? How stupid. Web designers? Where are they? The AIGA has nothing to offer interaction designers and “doesn’t have a fucking clue”. In their effort to expand digital presence and outreach, the organization, it seems, is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t.
But this perceived lack of relevance is not the point of my reflection. Criticism is a good thing. Without it, humanity moves forward much more slowly. Much less thoughtfully. As a collective, we should always be asking ourselves if something we’re doing is worth doing in the first place, and then, once we determine it’s worth doing, that we do it passionately and well.
One way to ensure this is through thoughtful critique. Key word: thoughtful. When AIGA launched their new site last week, I read mean, knee-jerk commentary on Twitter. It pissed me off. First, because I’ve worked with the people at AIGA’s national offices over the past two years and they’re great. They’re honest, sincere, and care passionately about good Design, not just graphic design. The organization may have been a little slow to embrace digital, but they’re trying. They definitely need more women and minorities and fewer white guys at the helm, but even in organizations developed to fill the interaction design gap, like the IxDA, for example, white guys still rein. And as IxDA grows, they’re turning to established design organizations like the AIGA to figure out some of the tactical issues on managing a growing organization.
I also had great experiences with the Seattle chapter as a fledgling designer.
Second, because these were cheap, 140-character jabs; a lazy cop out. If you’re going to offer a strong opinion in micro form, have the intellectual integrity to back it up with a thoughtful essay, framing your point-of-view. Include a link to a well-written, researched, thoughtful argument. Presented without expletives or mean-spiritedness. You won’t be taken seriously otherwise.
To completely dismiss the AIGA, a 100-year old organization that has long championed good design is short-sighted and unwise. If nothing else, the historical significance of AIGA’s documentation and elevation of the field of design is worth something. It’s worth a lot, actually. If a designer isn’t open-minded and astute enough to see that, it’s their loss. Design isn’t a zero sum game. I, for one, have my foot in both camps. A chapter leader with IxDA and involved on the national level with AIGA. I appreciate and draw inspiration from both organizations. As design has become increasingly multidisciplinary and complex, is it fair to expect one organization to fulfill all of our professional needs?
In fact, the research I’ve been doing on the importance of aesthetics makes me appreciate what AIGA brings to the table even more. In my involvement with IxDA, as great as it’s been, emphasis on aesthetics is one element that I’ve found lacking and have missed. Beauty on all levels is a necessary, important part of any good user experience. AIGA gets aesthetics in ways that IxDA doesn’t.
I could write more, but why would I when I can just point you to this great comment by Jeff Barlow, former president of AIGA Seattle in response to this very topic in September 2008:
First, I agree, AIGA could do a better job of developing programming that specifically addresses the medium of interactive design.
But I would say that AIGA is not about print design any more than it is about Interactive design. It’s about Design.
I’ve never designed a book or a cover. Yet I find 50 books/50 covers to be very relevant to my work. I’ve never done the full identity system for a city theatre organization, yet Paula Scher’s presentation about The Public in NY was inspiring and relevant. I’ve never touched motion graphics, but Kyle Cooper’s AIGA presentation here in Seattle was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
If it’s about Design, it’s relevant. And AIGA does a FANTASTIC job of bringing me events and programming, and people that are about design. (not logo design, not print design, not interactive design, just Design).
Wherever there are smart people, who solve problems brilliantly, using graphic media — That’s where I want to be. And AIGA is packed with those people. I would challenge anyone who uses design to look to AIGA.
I’ll echo what others have said that if you want events that specifically address the medium you work in, get involved and make it happen. I’m an AIGA president and I can speak for my whole board and say that if someone comes to us with something that enhances design — in any medium — in our community we will jump onboard and help them make it happen. All designers are welcome at AIGA.
I also found Jeffrey Zeldman’s and Ric Grefé’s responses critically thoughtful. If you’re interested in design of any discipline, I encourage you to read the entire thread.